March (Budget) Madness
Despite all the rhetoric flying around Washington last week during the annual budget debate, one fact about the new budget is clear: it makes government bigger. Like many of my Republican colleagues who curiously voted for the enormous budget resolution, I campaign on a simple promise that I will work to make government smaller. This means I cannot vote for any budget that increases spending over previous years. In fact, I would have a hard time voting for any budget that did not slash federal spending by at least 25%, especially when we remember that the federal budget in 1990 was less than half what it is today. Did anyone really think the federal government was uncomfortably small just 14 years ago? Hardly. It once took more than 100 years for the federal budget to double, now it takes less than a decade. We need to end the phony talk about “priorities” and recognize federal spending as the runaway freight train that it is. A federal government that spends 2.4 trillion dollars in one year and consumes roughly one-third of the nation’s GDP is far too large.
Neither political party wants to address the fundamental yet unspoken issue lurking beneath any budget debate: What is the proper role for government in our society? Are these ever-growing social services and military expenditures really proper in a free country? We need to understand that the more government spends, the more freedom is lost. Instead of simply debating spending levels, we ought to be debating whether the departments, agencies, and programs funded by the budget should exist at all. My Republican colleagues especially ought to know this. Unfortunately, however, the GOP has decided to abandon principle and pander to the entitlements crowd. But this approach will backfire, because Democrats always offer to spend even more than Republicans. When congressional Republicans offer to spend $500 billion on Medicare, Democrats will offer $600 billion, and why not? It’s all funny money anyway, and it helps them get reelected.
The term “baseline budget” is used every year in Washington. It means the previous year’s spending levels represent only a baseline starting point. Both parties accept that each new budget will spend more than the last, the only issue being how much more. If Republicans offer a budget that increases federal spending by 3%, while Democrats propose 6% growth, Republicans trumpet that they are the party of smaller government! But expanding the government slower than some would like is not the same as reducing it.
Furthermore, the budget passed last week further entrenches another phony Washington concept. An increasing percentage of the budget is categorized as “nondiscretionary” entitlement spending, meaning Congress ostensibly has no choice whether to fund certain programs. In fact, roughly two-thirds of the fiscal year 2005 budget is consumed by nondiscretionary spending. When Congress has no say over how two-thirds of the federal budget is spent, the American people effectively have no say either. Why in the world should the American people be forced to spend 1.5 trillion dollars funding programs that cannot even be reviewed at budget time? The very concept of nondiscretionary spending is a bureaucrat’s dream, because it assumes we as a society simply have accepted that most federal programs must be funded as a matter of course. NO program or agency should be considered sacred, and no funding should be considered inevitable.
The increases in domestic, foreign, and military spending would be unnecessary if Congress stopped trying to build an empire abroad and a nanny state at home. Our interventionist foreign policy and growing entitlement society will bankrupt this nation if we do not change the way we think about the proper role of the federal government.